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Timberlake Introduces Bill Requiring Coverage of Home Birth Services in Response to Pandemic-Related Challenges in Hospitals

With the COVID-19 pandemic making childbirth in a hospital setting more challenging, Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake sponsors a bill that would require health insurance carriers to provide coverage for home births. The legislation was introduced in the Assembly on Friday.

Over the past several weeks, as hospitals limit visitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many mothers have had to give birth alone or with only one other person present. The significant number of infectious patients being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 has put a tremendous strain on the healthcare system and caused many mothers to worry about the risk of infection.

“Many people have long advocated for women to be allowed the opportunity to give birth outside a hospital setting,” said Assemblywoman Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “This pandemic has only further emphasized the need for women to have alternative birthing arrangements if they so choose.”

Even before the pandemic, the annual number of births taking place outside of a hospital was already growing.

One study found that the number of at-home births increased by 77 percent from 2004-2017. Researchers concluded that this increase, despite factors such as a lack of health insurance coverage, “highlights the strong motivation of some women to choose out-of-hospital birth.”

Home births can provide a more comfortable and convenient setting for mothers, while making it easier for her support system of friends and relatives to assist her. This is especially true at a time when visitors are not permitted in hospitals.

“During this crisis, hospitals are not necessarily the safest place for a healthy pregnant person – especially for black women who already have higher maternal mortality rates and who now find themselves in a healthcare system overwhelmed by a pandemic,” said Rachel Connolly Kwock of the Northern NJ Doula Network. “Some pregnant women are so concerned about going to hospitals that they are even thinking of giving birth at home without any medical professionals. To help ensure the comfort and safety of mothers, I believe families should be supported in their option to plan a homebirth with a licensed midwife.”

“I introduced this legislation as a way to ensure home births are an option for more than just the wealthiest mothers who can afford to pay a doula or midwife,” said Timberlake. “As a mother who personally prefers natural birthing methods, I believe every woman deserves the right to choose where and how she will have her baby. By guaranteeing coverage for home birth-related services, it will become a more realistic option both during and after this pandemic.”